On Oct. 31, officials from the North Carolina NAACP filed a federal lawsuit against the North Carolina State Board of Elections to force election officials to stop purging voter registrations.
One week before voters go to the polls in national elections, the Board canceled thousands of voter registrations of Black voters in Cumberland, Moore and Beaufort counties after mail and postcards sent to them came back as undeliverable.
North Carolina NAACP President Rev. William Barber II asserts that the actions by elections officials to purge the rolls is a violation of the National Voting Registration Act which bars states from excising voters from the rolls 90 days or less before a federal election.
“Voter fraud is not the issue. But voter suppression is real. It’s planned, it’s intentional and it’s ongoing against the African American community,” Rev. Barber told the Huffington Post. “The Tar Heel state is ground-zero in the intentional surgical efforts by Republicans – or extremists who have hijacked the Republican Party – to suppress the vote of voters.”
The NAACP is asking the courts for expedited action on this matter.
Officials from the Board of Elections sent a letter to the North Carolina NAACP insisting that the Board was in compliance with the National Voter Registration Act because it notified voters of the challenge and gave them enough time to appear in court.
The NAACP lawsuit – which seeks to restore the canceled registration – is just the latest salvo between civil and voting rights groups and North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, Republican legislators and their allies.
About a month ago, the NAACP and its civil and voting rights allies won a three-year legal battle against the state when federal judges struck down House Bill 589. The ruling issued by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated most of a 2013 North Carolina law enacted the day after the US Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act. The court criticized the provisions of the law which they said deliberately “target(ed) African-Americans with almost surgical precision” in an effort to limit Black turnout at the polls by enacting “one of the largest restrictions of the franchise in modern North Carolina history.”
The justices also said the lawmakers sought to “impose cures for problems that did not exist.”
The monster elections bill was shepherded through the Legislature by the speaker of the House and voted on by the Republican-dominated legislature. The bill included a strict ID requirement as well as a range of additional voting restrictions, including a significantly shortened early voting period; the elimination of same-day registration; prohibition on the counting of out-of-precinct provisional ballots; the jettisoning a pre-registration program for 16- and 17-year olds; the closure of one-third of early voting locations; and easier means of challenging voters. The justices restored the week of early voting the law had reduced, but allowed local election officials to establish voting hours and the number of polling places.
Seeing an opportunity, Dallas Woodhouse, the head of the state’s Republican Party, wrote a letter to elections officials saying, “Republicans can and should make party line changes to early voting.” which they’ve done. GOP-dominated local election boards opted to slash voting hours well below those established for the 2012 election.
For decades, Republicans leaders across the country have continued to insist that they’ve challenged voters and imposed tough voter ID measures to prevent what they characterize as widespread voter fraud. But that claim isn’t supported by the facts. A Loyola University Law School study of voting patterns between 2000 and 2014 found only 31 credible instances of voter fraud out of 1 billion votes cast. And a 2015 report from the Brennan Center in New York found that the challenges are primarily “targeted at voters of color, student voters and voters with disabilities.” In addition, the report’s authors found, many states’ laws challenging voters “are susceptible to abuse.”
The swath of voter ID and other measures now law in almost two dozen states has had the desired effort on African-American turnout. In this year’s early voting, pollsters and pundits say that turnout of African Americans is 5 percent lower than at this time in 2012. They do admit the fact that President Barack Obama isn’t on the ballot may also be a factor for the lower turnout.
Meanwhile, Democratic Party officials in four states have filed lawsuits accusing Donald Trump’s campaign and Republicans of conspiring to intimidate voters. Trump is encouraging his supporters to go to the polls in Black communities to “watch” for attempts by voters to “steal” the election. Democrats are enlisting the help of the courts to prevent any voter intimidation or harassment from Republican poll watchers or other observers and also block potential confrontations at polling places.
But Republican lawmakers, election and party officials are the ones to watch, a number of civil and voting rights organizations contend.
According to Danyelle Solomon and Michelle L. Jawando of The Center for American Progress , election officials in Maricopa County – the largest county in Arizona – reduced the number of polling sites by 70 percent, resulting in voters waiting in line for up to five hours during the presidential primary earlier this year. And, in Texas and Utah a concealed carry permit is a valid ID to vote, but a student ID – even from a state university – is not.
“These tactics suppress access to the voting booth for people of color, students, the elderly, and low-income individuals, said Solomon, director of CAP’s Progress 2050 and Jawando, vice president for CAP’s Legal Progress team, in a statement.
For example, researchers from the University of California, San Diego discovered a clear and significant impact on turnout among communities of color in states using voter ID laws. The report found that “a strict ID law could be expected to depress Latino turnout by 9.3 points, Black turnout by 8.6 points, and Asian American turnout by 12.5 points.”
Polls conducted and released on Nov 2 show Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton and Trump tied or within a few points of each other in several states including Florida and North Carolina, with Clinton said to hold “a nearly insurmountable lead in battleground states to get her over 270 electoral voters.”
According to pollsters, about 24 million Americans have already voted, with these totals pointing to a Clinton lead in battleground states such as Nevada and North Carolina.
As the election campaign draws to a close, Scott Simpson laments the swath of voters of color – who generally vote Democratic – who have been victims of Republican collusion to impede their attempts to cast ballots.
“Since the Supreme Court gutted the VRA in 2013, states and cities have enacted a tidal wave of voter discrimination laws intended to restrict the right to vote for people of color, people with disabilities, students and others,” said Simpson, director of Media and Campaigns for The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and The Leadership Conference Education Fund. “Recent court victories turning back a few of these laws have proven that that these efforts are widespread, require massive investments of time and money to litigate, and intentionally discriminate against voters of color.”
Simpson credits groups like the Leadership Conference Education Fund, the ACLU, the Advancement Project, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, the Brennan Center for Justice, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the NALEO Educational Fund for fighting against these laws in the courts, statehouses, in the media and at city, state and council chambers.
“It took years of litigation to strike down intentionally discriminatory laws, meaning countless voters were denied the right to cast ballots in the 2014 mid-term election and in this year’s presidential primary – and there’s no way to get those votes back,” said Simpson, who co-authored a report earlier this year detailing the spate of voter suppression laws and the potential impact on the presidential election. “In Texas and North Carolina, there’s already been elections held where people were denied the vote. Discrimination has already happened. We’re fighting against intentional discrimination. It’s really tempting for people to celebrate these really hard-fought cases but the fight is far from over.”
Jawando and Solomon agree, saying in their October 2016 article titled, “Voter Suppression Is Real – Americans Must Remain Vigilant:” “In order for the reality of the nation’s democracy to be as good as its promise, all Americans must remain vigilant in making equal access to the ballot a reality.”